Chinatown, NYC. Is there anywhere like it?
Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of New York City’s oldest, and most densely populated immigrant neighborhoods, and a famous tourist and culinary destination. This area has been home to Asian immigrants for over a century and a half, with early settlers overcoming discrimination to establish long-held family businesses and newer immigrants expanding the community to create a thriving and vibrant district. It’s an urban neighborhood that has changed dramatically over the years and is full of challenges - rampant air pollution, a lack of usable green space, gentrification, and the 9/11 disaster impacts.
Over the last two years, CALL has been testing and developing artist-led projects that delve into the ecological, and cultural landscape of Chinatown. We’ve facilitated projects spearheaded by Asian-American artists and designers that address the pressing environmental challenges of a densely built urban community while celebrating its cultural heritage.
CALL’s projects have addressed topics ranging from its food systems, and traditional Chinese medicine to heat loss in century old housing. We continue to build relationships across diverse constituencies to develop innovative projects that raise awareness of the area’s environmental justice concerns and spur action to make Chinatown a more sustainable community.
How are we getting there?
CALL is in the research phase of an initiative to map out the food systems of Chinatown, led by designer and urbanist Stephen Fan and economic botanist Valerie Imbruce. Fan grew up shopping its crowded markets with his parents to supply their family restaurant in Connecticut and keenly understands it central importance to the Chinese diaspora in the North East. Imbruce is an expert in Chinatown’s food system. The current research she is conducting with CALL updates her seminal book from 2015, From Farm to Canal Street.
This initiative aims to bring together stories from the diversity of people’s lived experience connected to this neighborhood, highlight the ecological benefits of a food system where growers and sellers are in direct relationship, dispel misinformation, and engage residents in imagining the future of their neighborhood, advocating for solutions that prioritize the community’s needs and preserve their access to fresh, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods.
Over the past five years CALL has been facilitating a series of artist and scientist led walks, workshops and artist programs. These programs have all focused on learning about the touchpoints of concern for the people that live, work and shop in Chinatown. From air pollution to gentrification to the lack of usable green space, the projects CALL have explored have touched on issues that can at time seem intractable, but are soaked with passion, energy, an vision.